[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below]
Ouf, I can’t wait for this wretched campaign to be over. Vivement mercredi. These past ten days have been the most politically stressful of my entire life. After the third debate I was serenely confident, as were many, that Hillary had it in the bag—and with everything I’ve been saying since the winter as to how the election would play out being confirmed—but was then blindsided, like everyone, by the FBI’s attempted coup d’état à blanc—and which was not just the doing of a rogue faction in the bureau but of James Comey himself. In mid-September, when Hillary was alarmingly dropping in the polls, I opined that if, in the final stage of the campaign, it looked like she may lose, the American Deep State—the national security and foreign policy establishment parts of it—would deliver one October surprise after another to prevent Trump from winning. Well, it looks like I got this precisely backwards and was, moreover, mistaken about what part of the Deep State would go into action.
I have not been panic-stricken over the possibility that Trump could win; not only is such unthinkable—a prospect simply too nightmarish to contemplate—but that a lead of 5 to 6 points—which is what Hillary’s was on the eve of the FBI’s October surprise—could vanish comme ça simply made no sense, and over a bullshit story no less—which is, il faut le dire, what the entire email “scandal” has been, as Vox’s Matthew Yglesias precisely characterized it in a must-read piece the other day—and that should settle the matter once and for all. For such a lead to melt away over just a few days would be unprecedented in the history of presidential elections. But still. This past week has been like flying through an electrical storm and with heavy turbulence; intellectually you know the odds, that the plane will most certainly land, but are very nervous nonetheless. And sometimes planes that hit storms do crash…
I’m less nervous now, particularly with the reports from the early voting states, which are very good for Hillary and the Democrats. And the Clinton win probability at Sam Wang’s Princeton Election Consortium—with the random drift at >99% and Bayesian at >99% (please don’t ask me to explain what these mean)—is reassuring. Par contre, I’m fed up with 538, admittedly because I don’t like its numbers. There are too many polls, they’re all over the place, and with too much noise. Hillary’s favorable/unfavorable numbers at RCP have dropped a worrisome 6 points since the FBI’s October surprise—and with Trump’s rising, as fence-sitting Republican voters return to the fold—but Gallup, which has been polling daily on this, has shown no movement at all, with Hillary’s spread a steady +14 over Trump.
The bottom line: the only way Hillary can lose is if there is an epic failure of the Democrats’ lavish ground game on Tuesday, a consequential sharp drop in black and millennial turnout compared to 2012, and with more Democratic voters defecting to Trump than Republican voters to Clinton. This is really hard to imagine at this point. Black turnout in early voting does appear to be down—notably in NC and FL, due at least in part to GOP voter suppression—but this does not speak to what will happen on Tuesday. Cf. French elections, where turnout may be lackluster in the first round but unexpectedly surge in the second (as, e.g., happened in last year’s regional elections, when voters of the left came out of their slumber in the second round to block the Front National and give the Socialists a boost; and many of those voters were young people).
As for 2012 Obama voters defecting to Trump, I have seen no polling data indicating that their numbers are higher than Republicans voting for Hillary. In fact, it is indeed possible that the latter are more numerous than the polls have been picking up on. Anecdotally, my friend Claire—who is an editor at the “Ricochet: Conservative Conversation and Community” website, is horrified by Trump, and voting for Hillary—told me yesterday that several Ricochet members had written to her saying that they’re “secretly” voting for Hillary. Shy Clinton voters. And during an informal class discussion on the election two days ago, one of my American undergraduate students, who hails from South Carolina, said that she grew up in a conservative family and her parents are lifelong Republicans, but who are both voting for Hillary on Tuesday. Encouraging to hear that.
The broadsides by anti-Trump Republican commentators and pundits have made for great reading. E.g. The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin and Michael Gerson have been first-rate in their eviscerations of their party’s candidate; see, e.g., the latter’s latest column, “One final election plea, on the behalf of U.S. ideals.” Conservative journalist James Kirchick had a particularly strong piece in Tablet, dated Nov. 2nd, “Who Goes Trump?” The lede: “What ultimately determines support for the GOP nominee isn’t race, class, or political ideology. It’s character.” One may also read Kirchick’s Oct. 15th op-ed in the New York Daily News, “Black voters vs. populism: Why African-Americans so powerfully resisted the siren song of Donald Trump—and before him, Bernie Sanders.” Also in the NY Daily News is an op-ed (Nov. 5th; h/t Claire) by Naval War College professor Tom Nichols, “What Trump has already cost America: And how much steeper the price will grow if he wins.” And then there’s Robert Kagan, my favorite neocon (or “neocon,” as the neologism doesn’t mean anything anymore), who explained in WaPo (Oct. 11th) “Why we shouldn’t forgive the Republicans who sold their souls [to Trump].”
On populism, Trump’s Republicans, the Democrats, and the future, I assume that everyone has seen George Packer’s must-read enquête in the Oct. 31st New Yorker, “Hillary Clinton and the populist revolt.” The lede: “The Democrats lost the white working class. The Republicans exploited it. Can Clinton win it back?”
And if one missed it, there’s Jonathan Chait’s essential piece (Oct. 30th)—one of the best I’ve read lately—in New York magazine, “The GOP’s age of authoritarianism has only just begun: And it will not end with a Clinton presidency.”
Also in NY mag is associate editor Eric Levitz’s column (Nov. 1st), “Trump thrives in small towns that are becoming less white in a hurry.” It has been well established that Trump’s core voters are not les damnés de la terre, losers in the globalized economy or of free trade agreements and/or have lost their jobs to Mexican illegal aliens. The mean income of a mean Trump voter (pun not intended) is above the national. When it comes to their personal finances, they’re doing okay. Their anxiety is not economic but rather ethnic/racial and with immigration from south of the border the fixation point. As I’ve said more than once, Trump’s voters are the precise mirror image of Front National voters in France.
How can the political system accommodate this collective anxiety on the part of the population? The short response: it cannot, and should not try. Economic anxieties must be addressed—that’s what politics is about—but the political system cannot process ethnic/racial/cultural anxieties—and when it tries, it renders an already toxic situation that much worse. A political wall must be built around these existential anxieties. They must be contained. With time, they will attenuate.
On this, my friend Bob forwarded me a must-read commentary (Nov. 4th), on the Social Europe website, by economist Anatole Kaletsky, “End of the backlash against modernity if Trump loses,” in which he compares the present US psychodrama to the one in the UK over Brexit. In short, the populist moment in our polities—driven as it is by an inherently unstable alliance of authoritarian nationalists and economic neoliberals—may be short-lived.
In emailing me Kaletsky’s piece, Bob asked, “the poll that blew my mind: how can Americans think…that Hillary is LESS trustworthy than Trump?” The short answer: Trump’s America thinks this because it exists in an alternate media universe that drenches it with propaganda and lies. À propos, The Economist’s Nov. 5th issue has a good article, “White voters: Support for Donald Trump from working class whites is not what it seems.” This passage is pertinent
Another enabling factor is that [Trump’s] bullshit was already familiar to millions of whites, because of the decline of another important institution, the mainstream media. Many of Mr Trump’s supporters are more likely to get their information from right-wing blogs and talk-radio shows, which for the past two decades have been pushing hateful slanders against liberals, immigrants, and non-whites. It can be disconcerting at Mr Trump’s rallies to hear how thoroughly their nonsense is believed. “I can’t think of anything Trump could do that would stop me from voting for him,” said Suzy Carter, a computer programmer in Delaware, who was convinced that Clinton had had “over 100” people killed, which made her decision to vote for Trump an easy one.
In explaining the Trump phenomenon here in France, I tell my French interlocutors that in America the political terrain a été bien labouré—the political soil has been prepared—for a mass movement of the extreme right—which is what the GOP has become—over the past three decades, and in phases. The timeline, in short: the Reagan administration’s abrogation of the Fairness Doctrine, the subsequent emergence of AM talk radio (Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing shock jocks, for which there is no equivalent in France), Fox News (24 hour cable TV news arriving late in France and with brazenly partisan networks not possible—at least not yet). By the time blogs and social media burst on to the Internet, the American right-wing was already living in an alternate media universe. And it wasn’t just les petits blancs and other rubes in the heartland: Several years ago SCOTUS justice Antonin Scalia said—I read it in a mainstream source—that he had stopped reading The Washington Post, as it was too “liberal,” and with The Washington Times his sole morning paper. And it was reported during the Bush administration years that Republicans in Washington did not read The New York Times and, moreover, looked askance at associates who did (I don’t have the citation handy so please take my word for it). Epistemic closure. There you have it.
Here’s a thought by Garrison Keillor, posted on social media recently:
I must admit that I can’t imagine any friend of mine pulling the lever for Donald Trump for president. It’s just beyond my imagination. I can love sinners of many kinds, but I don’t know what to think about people who want to destroy this country. I never felt this way before. He simply is beyond the pale.
How can one have civil interaction with someone who supports a demagogic, fascistic, racist, misogynist candidate for president? A candidate who tells breathtaking lies such as Trump did yesterday about Obama (if you didn’t see it, watch here)? This is beyond belief.
Is America one nation? I’m not sure.
UPDATE: Jon Ralston, Nevada’s dean of political journalism, recounts in Politico (Nov. 6th) “How the Harry Reid machine may have killed Trump’s chances: By bringing Hispanics out in droves in early voting, the Senate minority leader is trying to turn Nevada into a bellwether for a Clinton win.”
2nd UPDATE: Esquire’s Charles E. Pierce, meditating on Trump’s latest breathtaking lie (see above), says “I’ve finally had it with Trump: I don’t know why, but this was the gross public lie that broke the camel’s back.”
3rd UPDATE: Journalist Jake Whitney has an excellent, must-read article in TDB (Nov. 6th), “How the right destroyed the truth,” that totally makes my argument above on the Big Lie alternative universe that the American right now inhabits in its large majority. The lede: “Trump’s lies are just the beginning. Over two decades, right-wing media has degraded the credibility of the entire media and also degraded the idea that objective facts even exist.”
For an illustration of this—that I just came by—see the Facebook comments thread of this post (setting is public) by the journalist Michael J. Totten—who, politically speaking, could loosely be labeled a libertarian “neocon”—and, in particular, the back-and-forth exchange with his FB friend named Grant in the sub-thread below Totten’s comment “We vote by mail in my state.” My mouth was agape reading it. Grant is a living-and-breathing example of an American conservative who lives in that alternative universe.